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Hempstead school board votes for more charges against superintendent

The panel voted unanimously for "substantially more" allegations against Shimon Waronker, an attorney for the district said. The board brought 41 charges against the sidelined schools chief in August.

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker during a board

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker during a board meeting at Hempstead High School on Jan. 3. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The Hempstead school board has added to its lengthy list of charges against Superintendent Shimon Waronker, an attorney for the district said Tuesday — the latest move in the panel's controversial monthslong effort to remove the schools chief placed on paid administrative leave in January.

The district's initial 41 charges against Waronker, unanimously approved at a hastily called Aug. 7 board meeting, accuse him of bid-rigging, conflict of interest, sham hiring, neglect of duty and misconduct.

Jonathan Scher, a partner in the Scher Law Firm in Carle Place, who represents the school district, said the five-member board on Monday night unanimously amended the initial charges, adding "substantially more."

Scher, as he said in August regarding the initial charges, said he could not publicly release the document because it would compromise Waronker's rights. He said Waronker would be served with charges on Tuesday.

Frederick K. Brewington, Waronker's Hempstead-based attorney, in an email Tuesday, said he was "unaware of any additional charges."

In August, Brewington called the initial allegations “false and contrived to mask the real issues that Dr. Waronker was in the process of helping the District solve."

Nicole Epstein, a spokeswoman for the district, said the board won't comment because of pending litigation.

Brewington on Aug. 9 publicly released the original charges, which were detailed in a 174-page document.

Waronker, who started work in the district on June 2, 2017, is entitled through his contract to a hearing.

The four-year contract, which pays $265,000 annually in base salary plus benefits, stipulates that a hearing officer be mutually selected by him and the board within five days of his receipt of the charges. He has the right to choose whether the hearing is public or private. 

Scher on Tuesday said a hearing officer had been mutually selected in September, but the date of a hearing probably will not be set until Waronker reviews the amended charges.

Epstein also said a hearing officer had been chosen, but information about that would not be released until after the amended charges against Waronker had been served.

Brewington said he could not confirm that a hearing officer was selected. In an email last week, the attorney said he and his client had not received confirmation that the district had hired a hearing officer. 

Waronker, a Harvard-educated administrator, came to the 8,000-plus student district with a reputation for turning around low-performing and violent schools in New York City. 

The Hempstead district, the largest K-12 system in Nassau County, has been troubled for decades, repeatedly criticized by the state Education Department and state comptroller for its governance, factionalism among trustees, low test scores and graduation rates, and failure to correct financial irregularities and upgrade deteriorating infrastructure.

Waronker was viewed as a reformer, whose ideas and approaches would right the system. But his relations with some of the board members soured last fall, and  some trustees criticized him for personnel decisions and expenditures, including awarding a $450,000 contract to the New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based educational consulting firm that he founded. 

After a shift in the board's majority, the panel on Jan. 9 voted 3-2 to place Waronker on paid leave. Regina Armstrong, a longtime administrator in Hempstead, was appointed as acting superintendent. 

Waronker on Jan. 19 filed a lawsuit in federal court in Central Islip against the school system over his being placed on leave. It remains unclear how the board's action toward his dismissal could affect the legal case. 

A payout of the remainder of his contract would mean a potential expenditure of $795,000 in salary alone, plus thousands in benefits. The legal costs will increase if the matter goes to a hearing.

The original allegations against Waronker voted on in August include that he committed bid-rigging when awarding the contract to the New American Initiative. The charges also allege that he deceived the district by continuing to be involved with the group and that he disenrolled more than 300 students last fall, violating both state law and those pupils’ due-process rights.

“This Board of Education has chosen to follow a path of denial of the real concerns facing the District and the children of Hempstead …Their false charges will be challenged," Brewington has said.

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